Get Behind Go Virginia


Here's something you don't hear every day: so much support for a bill in the Virginia General Assembly that the idea of opposition provokes laughter. According to Wednesday's Washington Post:

After hearing the glowing testimony, Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta) asked whether anyone opposed GO Virginia — to laughter from the morning crowd of lobbyists and lawmakers.

Of course, as the piece pointed out, there was SOME opposition from -- who else -- Del. Bob Marshall, who joined a small minority of Republicans in complaining that the program would interfere with the free market. "We are entering into the marketplace as a government entity," Marshall said.

Of course, Marshall also thinks homosexuality "undermines the American economy," but his economic literacy is not the point here. Instead, the point is "Go Virginia;" does this program deserve such strong bipartisan support? And is it really such a good deal for Virginia taxpayers? The short answer, believe it or not, is "yes" to both questions.

Basically, Go Virginia is a grant program backed by state business leaders that rewards cities and counties for working together on economic development projects. The bills that create this program set up a matching grant fund to jump-start such projects, and also a board that helps ensure that localities share the resulting economic development benefits.

Why is this so important? Regional cooperation is the magic bullet that solves a fundamental problem in local politics. Back in 1981, political scientist Paul E. Peterson pointed out that cities and localities are actually engaged in dramatic competition with each other. The prize: "export" businesses that sell products and services that bring in money from outside the locality. Small businesses like grocery stores and dry cleaners are fine, but the best kind of economic development creates high-skilled jobs funded by customers from elsewhere.

This is why city and state leaders Virginia worked so hard to bring in Stone Brewing or new jobs from tech companies like Shift. Already established business can -- and do -- complain about the incentives offered to lure these new players, but it's a sound practice that benefits the locality. Stable jobs create stable employees who pay taxes and don't draw on too many services - a net gain for cities and counties. (And this gives these localities the resources to take care of their less fortunate citizens with services like homeless shelters and food programs. Otherwise they may literally try to literally drive the poor into neighboring areas.)

In other words, cities and counties -- and, to some extent, states -- are playing a zero-sum game; if another locality gains a business, then they lose. That's why you get what the Washington Business Journal calls "a heated competition" between Maryland and Virginia to host the headquarters of companies like Bechtel and Marriott. Back in 2013, Texas even ran radio ads in California to explicitly lure businesses to the state. This kind of competition is just as heated among localities within a state, and leads to tensions between neighbors over which residents are served by which services. (Stadium financing almost always revolves around this question; just ask the Richmond Flying Squirrels.)

So how do you solve this problem? Regional cooperation. Cities and neighboring counties can work together to bring economic development to a region with plans to share the economic bounty. And that's exactly what Go Virginia proposes to do.

Virginians have very good reasons to be skeptical of the solutions offered by business leaders and corporations. (Coal ash, anyone?) But in this case (and maybe JUST this case), they're definitely on to something. Regional cooperation is one way to ensure that cities and counties aren't always actively working against each other. (Even if it's probably too late to help Nutzy.)

VA Senate at stake on Tuesday... sort of

I'll be appearing on WRIC-8 this Tuesday night to talk about the election, probably at 6 & 11 (and maybe again on Wednesday morning to wrap-up). Here's a preview of some of the things I'll mention if I get the chance:

  • Individual characteristics of candidates are important, sure. But state legislative politics, including here in VA, is so driven by ideology that I have to agree with the Roanoke Times: "the question voters really face on Tuesday is not which senator you want to represent you in Richmond, but which party do you want in control?" Voters may look at a guy like 10th District candidate Glen Sturtevant and see a moderate Republican, and they may be right in terms of his personal ideology. But newly elected State Senator Sturtevant would not buck his party on key votes, and his party overall is incredibly conservative. Anyone who votes for a "moderate" Republican this Tuesday will likely experience some nasty surprises when the GA is in session next year. (Remember 2012's "war on women"? Remember the "rape wands"?) Just another reason why outside money has flowed into Virginia elections this year.
  • Speaking of Sturtevant, his chances look good for Tuesday. Both he and Gecker have waged pretty negative campaigns, with accusations flying back and forth on TV, mailers, and internet ads. But I think Gecker went too far in implicating Sturtevant in a "secret plan" to redistrict the public schools. The actually-not-secret plan was strongly supported by a lot of South Side neighborhoods, and some of these folks - many of them Democrats - seemed turned off by Gecker's attacks. (10th District residents recieved a "Neighborhood Alert" mailer last week that detailed the controversy, noting that "Glen Sturtevant Stood WITH US!... We need to STAND with Glen Sturtevant.")
  • I could be wrong about Sturtevant and Gecker's race. But overall, the most likely outcome for Tuesday is continued GOP control of both houses in the GA. The news is not good for supporters of the Democrats, the Governor, and those hoping for Virginia to accept those federal Medicaid dollars.  But it is good news for those who like political warfare; everybody man up for more.

Once again, 1-term Governorship shakes up VA politics

So Mark Herring will not run for Governor in 2017; he's going to try to hang on to the AG office instead.

Norm Leahy and Paul Goldman had their usually solid analysis of some of the issues at play in the WaPo this past weekend, suggesting that Herring just may not have been up for a difficult run for the Governor's office. But they note there could be larger forces at play:

Herring surely expects former secretary of state Hillary Clinton to be the next president. McAuliffe, one of her closest friends, would be in line for a major Cabinet post. If he resigns in early 2017, Northam becomes the incumbent governor. If Herring were running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he would be in what the British call a “sticky wicket.”

Other Democrats would be running for attorney general, leaving Herring unable to seek reelection, stuck running against an incumbent Democratic governor. McAuliffe says he intends to serve out his term. But if a president and close friend says she needs him, would McAuliffe refuse?

Here's where Virginia's unique political system comes into play. It's the only state where governors are limited to one term in office (although they can run again after sitting out a term). Often, this just means that there are a legion of former Governors hanging around the state, running for office; it's no surprise that both U.S. Senators from VA are former Governors.

But it also means that the sitting Governor has very little time in office before having to think about what the next step on the political ladder should be. For McAuliffe, a Democrat, there's no path to national office since both Senator seats are blocked by fellow Dems. His best bet at keeping an important political post is to join his pal's Presidential Administration in some role or another.

And so McAuliffe might be eyeing an early exit in 2017. Lt. Gov Northram eyes taking over the Governor's office a year early. And Herring has to stay where he is and wait his turn. Only Mark Herring knows for sure what drove his decision, but this sure makes for a plausible story, and VA's particular election rules make that story happen.

Stick a fork in Medicaid expansion?

Remember this?

[McAuliffe] said he will go ahead with Medicaid expansion administratively -- a move that provoked an immediate vow of resistance from Republican leaders in the House of Delegates. The governor said he has directed Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel to come up with a plan by Sept. 1.

Well, it's now September - so the Governor must have Hazel's plan on his desk. And indeed, he plans to announce a big proposal for Medicaid expansion... when, exactly?

The Governor has hinted that he will find some way to use the power of his office to ram through expansion of some kind. But it's hard to see what he can without some kind of approval, or at least budgeting authority, from the General Assembly.

Pennsylvania has been able to create the kind of public-private partnership McAuliffe was proposing, but they have a Republican governor, and even he has gotten static from right-wing critics. There's no "R" after McAuliffe's name to help insulate him from that kind of criticism.

Blue Virginia has a nice piece this week on McAuliffe's dwindling options, especially in light of the increasingly bad budget news. But the solution suggested there - win back the VA Senate for the Dems - is a longshot at best.

It could be that McAuliffe has just lost on this issue. Since he essentially staked his entire governorship on it, that doesn't bode well for the rest of his term.

McDonnells' "soap opera" is not the problem

The federal corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife began this week. We knew it would be a circus, but the competing narratives of the two sides are tailor-made for media headlines.

Star witness for the prosecution, supplement manufacturer Jonnie Williams, basically told the court that he was manipulating the McDonnells for business reasons. He painted the former Governor and his wife as a couple of rubes, dazzled by rides in his fancy cars and private plane, and willing to trade political favors for more. (It should be noted that WIlliams has been granted immunity from prosecution.)

Meanwhile, the McDonnells seem to be ginning up a romance between the first lady and Williams, suggesting that Maureen McDonnell accepted favors from Williams just because she was so enamored of him. WaPo columnist Petula Dvorak even suggested she was acting out a "puppy crush" in court.

This is all great fun, especially for those who remember how the Governor stood with religious conservatives on abortion and gay rights. (MSNBC's Martin Bashir, mostly unfairly, went after the governor last year for his master's thesis. I wrote one of those myself, and I wouldn't have any idea today what I said in it.)

But overall, I'm with Rachel Maddow on this trial: the media are having fun with the soap opera, but we're forgetting the real issue here. The story of the McDonnell trial is not a soap opera, or even the fall of a once-righteous leader; it's the age-old story of political corruption. As we were reminded with the Phil Puckett resignation mess, we can't rely on politicians to police themselves. The prevention of political corruption requires REAL ethics reform, including gift bans with teeth and revolving door restrictions.

And with a General Assembly passing almost useless reforms, and then the Governor quietly vetoing funds for even their bad ideas, change does not seem to be on the horizon. It may take the next McDonnell-type scandal -- and, without reform, there WILL be more -- to spur the GA to action.